How #coronavirus threatens the seasonal farmworkers at the heart of the American food supply — The Conversation #COVID19


A farmworker picks lemons at an orchard in Mesa, California.
Brent Stirton/Getty Images

Michael Haedicke, Drake University

Many Americans may find bare grocery store shelves the most worrying sign of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their food system.

But, for the most part, shortages of shelf-stable items like pasta, canned beans and peanut butter are temporary because the U.S. continues to produce enough food to meet demand – even if it sometimes takes a day or two to catch up.

To keep up that pace, the food system depends on several million seasonal agricultural workers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants from Mexico and other countries. These laborers pick grapes in California, tend dairy cows in Wisconsin and rake blueberries in Maine.

As a sociologist who studies agricultural issues, including farm labor, I believe that these workers face particular risks during the current pandemic that, if unaddressed, threaten keeping those grocery store shelves well stocked.

Essential labor

It is difficult to accurately count the number of hired agricultural laborers in the United States, but official sources place the number at
1 million to 2.7 million people, depending on the time of year.

Most of these workers are employed seasonally to perform the hard manual labor of cultivating and harvesting crops. One-half to three-quarters of them were born outside of the United States, with the majority holding Mexican citizenship.

The H-2A visa program authorizes noncitizen agricultural laborers to work in the United States. This program allows farmers to recruit workers for seasonal agricultural jobs, provided the workers return home within 10 months.

But the H-2A program doesn’t cover enough workers to meet the needs of the food system. In 2018, only 243,000 visas were issued under the program – far less than the total number of workers needed to power the farm economy.

Government research suggests that approximately half of the remaining workers on U.S. farms are in the United States without legal authorization. These workers often live in the U.S. year-round, choosing to be in legal limbo rather than risk crossing an increasingly policed border. Some travel from state to state, following the harvest cycle of crops.

These farmworkers play an essential role in U.S. agriculture. They pick fresh fruits and vegetables, which are often difficult or impossible to harvest mechanically. They milk cows on dairy farms. In my home state of Iowa, they detassel the hybrid corn varieties – a form of pollination control – that farmers rely on.

Remove these workers, in other words, and large sectors of the American food system would grind to a halt.

Dangerous conditions

Yet there are several factors that put them at higher risk during the pandemic.

For example, social isolation is almost impossible for farmworkers, who often live and work in close proximity to one another.

Those in the H-2A program typically live in on-site, dormitory-style housing, with up to 10 people sharing sleeping quarters and restroom facilities.

The mostly undocumented workers not covered by H-2A visas frequently work for labor contractors, who arrange for their transportation to work sites in shared vans or trucks.

And once on the job, workers interact closely to harvest crops at a rapid pace.

This near-constant physical proximity to one another can facilitate the rapid transmission of the coronavirus.

Seriously susceptible

The nature of their work also makes farmworkers especially susceptible to serious coronavirus infections.

Although COVID-19 tends to be most severe in the elderly and people with underlying health conditions, farm laborers face working conditions that may elevate the risk for severe disease.

Exposure to dangerous pesticides is not unusual, and agricultural workers must also contend with lung irritants from dust, pollen and crops. This can trigger asthma attacks in farmworkers and their children and contribute to other respiratory disorders. Heath officials have found that these conditions contribute to serious coronavirus infections.

Moreover, farmworkers face a number of barriers to accessing medical care, ranging from linguistic and cultural differences to lack of reliable transportation to the limited number of medical facilities in many rural communities.

These barriers are especially high for the many undocumented farmworkers, who are not eligible for insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act, which does cover workers on H-2A visas.

They may also be reluctant to seek medical care, not wanting to draw attention to themselves in a political climate in which immigration laws are strictly enforced. And farmworkers aren’t typically granted sick leave.

Finally, the labor contractors who employ undocumented workers generally pay only for work that is completed. This means that a day at the doctor’s office is a day without pay – no small sacrifice for a worker making less than $18,000 a year.

Impact on the food supply

But what would an outbreak of COVID-19 among farmworkers mean for the food system?

Fortunately, the risk of direct transmission of the coronavirus passing from farmworkers to consumers through food products is low.

However, widespread infections among farmworkers could make it difficult for farmers to harvest crops. Even before the pandemic, farmers in many agricultural areas were already struggling with labor shortages.

The coronavirus could make this problem worse, potentially causing the loss of crops that cannot be harvested in time. Demand for farmworkers peaks in the summer, so this problem is only a few months away.

Another concern is that fewer workers, fearful of the coronavirus, will apply for H-2A visas to work on U.S. farms, instead seeking work in their home countries. Farmers in hard-hit Italy are already grappling with a similar issue. And on the other side of this issue, the suspension of visa services at U.S. embassies and consulates may restrict the number of H-2A visas given out.

Eventually, consumers could begin to see the impact of any labor shortages in the form of higher prices or shortages of products ranging from strawberries and lettuce to meat and dairy.

There’s no easy solution, but a good start would be ensuring farmworkers are able to follow effective social distancing guidelines, are wearing protective gloves and masks, and are able to get the medical care they need without fear of lost wages or deportation.

Americans depend on these laborers to continue putting food on their tables during this crisis. A little support would go a long way.

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Michael Haedicke, Associate Professor of Sociology, Drake University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Colorado readies guidelines for prioritizing coronavirus patient care in case of hospital overload — The Greeley Tribune

Graph via Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Click on the image to go to the website for updated data.

From The Denver Post (John Aguilar) via The Greeley Tribune:

Colorado health officials are finalizing guidelines to help doctors on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis make the excruciating choices about how to prioritize care for COVID-19 patients should the pandemic overwhelm the capacity of the state’s hospital system.

Julie Lonborg, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Hospital Association, said the state’s medical network is currently “not anywhere near capacity” but the growing numbers of coronavirus cases in the state — the latest tally Tuesday was 2,966 cases and 509 people hospitalized with COVID-19 — could quickly change that situation.

“We have to get ready for it to be a lot of patients all at once,” Lonborg said.

That kind of surge could lead to the nightmare scenarios that have most notably played out in northern Italy, where doctors have been forced to decide which critical patients get scarce equipment and staffing to keep them alive.

“There may be dire circumstances where our resources are unable or are insufficient to provide optimal care to everyone,” said Dr. Darlene Tad-y, a physician at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora who serves on the Governor’s Expert Emergency Epidemic Response Committee, or GEEERC. “Should we reach that moment, I hope community members will feel we have done our due diligence in using the utmost sense of fairness and ethics in what we write.”

The 19-member GEEERC is in the midst of finalizing recommendations for how to put in play the Colorado Crisis Standards of Care Plan, a set of emergency protocols meant to help caregivers manage a health crisis when “demands related to patient care and public health needs radically exceed available resources.”

“This is statewide guidance on how to do triage in the most ethically defensible way,” said Dr. Matthew Wynia, director of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

It’s expected that the group will forward its report to the governor’s office in the next week to 10 days.

At the core of the guidelines is the acknowledgment that when things get desperate — like there’s a shortage of hospital beds, ventilators or medical staff — “there may be circumstances in which resources should be diverted from patients with a lower likelihood of benefit to those with a greater likelihood to benefit,” according to the 2018 Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s All Hazards Internal Emergency Response and Recovery Plan.

But how those patient care priorities are determined is critical, said Julie Reiskin, executive director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition.

“We don’t want assumptions made about quality of life — that because someone has an underlying condition or a disability they have less to offer,” she said. “We don’t want them to use a disability characteristic that is not relevant to the pandemic (to deny care). It has to be scientifically based and not based on the assumption or belief about the value of someone’s life.”

[…]

Tad-y, the CU doctor who sits on GEEERC, said Colorado’s approach to critical care is not to look at categories of people but at an individual’s overall health condition and their likelihood to survive coronavirus.

“Primarily, we’re looking at the clinical status of our patients as it relates specifically to this illness,” she said.

#Colorado water utilities race to protect workers from COVID-19 as they declare tap water safe — @WaterEdCO #COVID19

Workers pose for a photo in the Moffat Water Tunnel in this 1930 photo.

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

As COVID-19 cases spread across Colorado, water utilities initiated emergency action plans, asking hundreds of employees to work from home to limit the virus’ spread and to help protect the workers needed to operate water treatment and delivery systems.

COVID-19 isn’t typically found in treated water systems, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because it is easily susceptible to the disinfectants used in standard water treatment systems.

“This virus is fragile,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO and manager of Denver Water, Colorado’s largest municipal water supplier. “The EPA and CDC and WHO [World Health Organization] have all put out guidance that drinking water systems that are treating water properly are perfectly safe. Our treatment protocols exceed federal and state standards and so we are doing better than we are required to do.”

Though water safety isn’t an issue in this pandemic, at least not yet, worker safety is.

In the heart of Colorado’s ski country, where COVID-19 cases have spread quickly, the Vail-based Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, as well as its sister agency the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, issued an emergency declaration March 13, a move that will allow them to apply for state and federal funds and extra equipment should they be needed.

The primary worry, said Eagle River District general manager Linn Brooks, is to prevent a rapid onset of COVID-19 among operations staff, something that could hamper the districts’ ability to ensure consistent water treatment and delivery.

“My biggest concern is that if it spreads quickly through our staff and we have a lot of people out, straining our capacity to do our work. Still, we could absorb a fair amount [of employee absences] before it impacts the service we provide,” Brooks said.

To date no Eagle River or Upper Eagle River District employees have tested positive for the virus nor is her district seeing high rates of absenteeism, Brooks said.

But the Eagle River District has imposed new sanitation and cleaning protocols at its plants and is requiring workers to stay home, with or without testing, if they exhibit any cold or flu-like symptoms. They can return to work only after they’ve been symptom free for at least 72 hours.

On the Front Range, Berthoud-based Northern Water, which serves more than 1 million agricultural and municipal customers, has also instituted emergency action plans, asking non-essential personnel to work from home and keeping operators on the job. Northern serves cities across the northern Front Range, including Fort Collins, Greeley, Boulder and Longmont, among others.

Northern offers workers unlimited sick leave as a matter course, while other utilities, such as Denver Water, are offering special administrative leave to employees who become ill to encourage them to remain home, allowing them to protect their personal vacation and sick time.

The pandemic has arrived just as the spring water delivery season begins. At least three regularly scheduled major water planning meetings across the state, used to inform the public and collect input on how much water should be made available for the year, have been cancelled.

“The hard part is getting the word out,” said Northern Water spokesman Jeff Stahla.

Northern’s board will make a decision April 9 on how much water will be delivered to users this year, based on final snowpack numbers and reservoir storage. But that meeting, like many others, may end up being conducted online or via conference call, Stahla said.

Colorado State of the River meetings, typically hosted by the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District, have also been postponed until further notice.

Back in Denver, Lochhead said his agency will remain in emergency mode “indefinitely.”

“We have calls every morning to assess. It’s a dynamic situation that changes daily if not hourly,” Lochhead said. “But in the uncertain world we’re in right now, the safety and reliability of the supply is the surest thing we have going.”

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

Experts agree that Trump’s coronavirus response was poor, but the US was ill-prepared in the first place — @ConversationUS


President Donald Trump with members of the president’s Coronavirus Task Force at the White House, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Simon F. Haeder, Pennsylvania State University

As the coronavirus pandemic exerts a tighter grip on the nation, critics of the Trump administration have repeatedly highlighted the administration’s changes to the nation’s pandemic response team in 2018 as a major contributor to the current crisis. This combines with a hiring freeze at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leaving hundreds of positions unfilled. The administration also has repeatedly sought to reduce CDC funding by billions of dollars. Experts agree that the slow and uncoordinated response has been inadequate and has likely failed to mitigate the coming widespread outbreak in the U.S.

As a health policy expert, I agree with this assessment. However, it is also important to acknowledge that we have underfunded our public health system for decades, perpetuated a poorly working health care system and failed to bring our social safety nets in line with other developed nations. As a result, I expect significant repercussions for the country, much of which will disproportionately fall on those who can least afford it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, March 6, 2020. President Trump visited the CDC that day in an effort to calm fears about coronavirus.
AP Photo/Ron Harris

Decades of underfunding

Spending on public health has historically proven to be one of humanity’s best investments. Indeed, some of the largest increases in life expectancy have come as the direct result of public health interventions, such as sanitation improvements and vaccinations.

Even today, return on investments for public health spending is substantial and tends to significantly outweigh many medical interventions. For example, one study found that every US$10 per person spent by local health departments reduces infectious disease morbidity by 7.4%.

However, despite their importance to national well-being, public health expenditures have been neglected at all levels. Since 2008, for example, local health departments have lost more than 55,000 staff. By 2016, only about 133,000 full-time equivalent staff remained. State funding for public health was lower in 2016-2017 than in 2008-2009. And the CDC’s prevention and public health budget has been flat and significantly underfunded for years. Overall, of the more than $3.5 trillion the U.S. spends annually on health care, a meager 2.5% goes to public health.

Not surprisingly, the nation has experienced a number of outbreaks of easily preventable diseases. Currently, we are in the middle of significant outbreaks of hepatitis A (more than 31,000 cases), syphilis (more than 35,000 cases), gonorrhea (more than 580,000 cases) and chlamydia (more than 1,750,000 cases). Our failure to contain known diseases bodes ill for our ability to rein in the emerging coronavirus pandemic.

Failures of health care systems

Yet while we have underinvested in public health, we have been spending massive and growing amounts of money on our medical care system. Indeed, we are spending more than any other country for a system that is significantly underperforming.

To make things worse, it is also highly inequitable. Yet, the system is highly profitable for all players involved. And to maximize income, both for- and nonprofits have consistently pushed for greater privatization and the elimination of competitors.

As a result, thousands of public and private hospitals deemed “inefficient” because of unfilled beds have closed. This eliminated a significant cushion in the system to buffer spikes in demand.

At any given time, this decrease in capacity does not pose much of a problem for the nation. Yet in the middle of a global pandemic, communities will face significant challenges without this surge capacity. If the outbreak mirrors anything close to what we have seen in other countries, “there could be almost six seriously ill patients for every existing hospital bed.” A worst-case scenario from the same study puts the number at 17 to 1. To make things worse, there will likely be a particular shortage ofunoccupied intensive care beds.

Of course, the lack of overall hospitals beds is not the most pressing issue. Hospitals also lack the levels of staffing and supplies needed to cope with a mass influx of patients. However, the lack of ventilators might prove the most daunting challenge.

Virginia Hollins-Davidson is taken away by a California Highway Patrol officer after she and other protesters blocked the door to the governor’s office during a protest by the Poor People’s Campaign at the Capitol, June 18, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif.
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Limits of the overall social safety net

While the U.S. spends trillions of dollars each year on medical care, our social safety net has increasingly come under strain. Even after the Affordable Care Act, almost 30 million Americans do not have health insurance coverage. Many others are struggling with high out-of-pocket payments.

To make things worse, spending on social programs, outside of those protecting the elderly, has been shrinking, and is significantly smaller than in other developed nations. Moreover, public assistance is highly uneven and differs significantly from state to state.

And of course, the U.S. heavily relies on private entities, mostly employers, to offer benefits taken for granted in other developed countries, including paid sick leave and child care. This arrangement leaves 1 in 4 American workers without paid sick leave, resulting in highly inequitable coverage. As a result, many low-income families struggle to make ends meet even when times are good.

Can the US adapt?

I believe that the limitations of the U.S. public health response and a potentially overwhelmed medical care system are likely going to be exacerbated by the blatant limitations of the U.S. welfare state. However, after weathering the current storm, I expect us to go back to business as usual relatively quickly. After all, that’s what happened after every previous pandemic, such as H1N1 in 2009 or even the 1918 flu epidemic.

The problems are in the incentive structure for elected officials. I expect that policymakers will remain hesitant to invest in public health, let alone revamp our safety net. While the costs are high, particularly for the latter, there are no buildings to be named, and no quick victories to be had. The few advocates for greater investments lack resources compared to the trillion-dollar interests from the medical sector.

Yet, if altruism is not enough, we should keep reminding policymakers that outbreaks of communicable diseases pose tremendous challenges for local health care systems and communities. They also create remarkable societal costs. The coronavirus serves as a stark reminder.

[You need to understand the coronavirus pandemic, and we can help. Read our newsletter.]The Conversation

Simon F. Haeder, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Pennsylvania State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Secretary Perdue Announces New Innovation Initiative for @USDA

Excess nitrogen and phosphorus in waterbodies, known as nutrient pollution, is a growing problem in Utah and across the country. Nutrients are linked to cyanobacterial growth, including harmful algal blooms, and can lower dissolved-oxygen levels in waterbodies, adversely affecting aquatic life. This pollution comes from a variety of sources, including wastewater treatment plants, nonpoint source pollution from agricultural operations, and residential and municipal stormwater runoff. Nutrient pollution poses a significant threat to Utah’s economic growth and quality of life, leading to substantial costs to the state and taxpayers if left unaddressed.

Here’s the release from the US Department of Agriculture:

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced the Agriculture Innovation Agenda, a department-wide initiative to align resources, programs, and research to position American agriculture to better meet future global demands. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will stimulate innovation so that American agriculture can achieve the goal of increasing production by 40 percent while cutting the environmental footprint of U.S. agriculture in half by 2050.

“We know we have a challenge facing us: to meet future food, fiber, fuel, and feed demands with finite resources. USDA’s Agriculture Innovation Agenda is our opportunity define American agriculture’s role to feed everyone and do right as a key player in the solution to this challenge,” said Secretary Perdue. “This agenda is a strategic, department-wide effort to better align USDA’s resources, programs, and research to provide farmers with the tools they need to be successful. We are also continually mindful of the need for America’s agriculture industry to be environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable to maintain our position as a leader in the global effort to meet demand. We are committed as ever to the environmental sustainability and continued success, of America’s farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers.”

BACKGROUND:

The first component of the Ag Innovation Agenda is to develop a U.S. ag-innovation strategy that aligns and synchronizes public and private sector research. The second component is to align the work of our customer-facing agencies and integrate innovative technologies and practices into USDA programs. The third component is to conduct a review of USDA productivity and conservation data. USDA already closely tracks data on yield, but on the environmental side, there’s some catching up to do. Finally, USDA has set benchmarks to hold us accountable. These targets will help measure progress toward meeting the food, fiber, fuel, feed, and climate demands of the future. Some of the benchmarks include:

  • Food loss and waste: Advance our work toward the United States’ goal to reduce food loss and waste by 50 percent in the United States by the year 2030.
  • Carbon Sequestration and Greenhouse Gas: Enhance carbon sequestration through soil health and forestry, leverage the agricultural sector’s renewable energy benefits for the economy, and capitalize on innovative technologies and practices to achieve net reduction of the agricultural sector’s current carbon footprint by 2050 without regulatory overreach.
  • Water Quality: Reduce nutrient loss by 30 percent nationally by 2050.
  • Renewable Energy: We can increase the production of renewable energy feedstocks and set a goal to increase biofuel production efficiency and competitiveness to achieve market-driven blend rates of 15% of transportation fuels in 2030 and 30% of transportation fuels by 2050.
  • Read more about the Agriculture Innovation Agenda (PDF, 196 KB) here.

    @POTUS Admin’s Clean Water Rollback Will Hit Some States Hard — The Revelator #WOTUS

    New Mexico Lakes, Rivers and Water Resources via Geology.com.

    From The Revelator (Tara Lohan):

    The Santa Fe River starts high in the forests of New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo mountains and flows 46 miles to the Rio Grande. Along the way it plays important roles for wildlife, irrigation, recreation and other cultural uses, and provides 40% of the water supply for the city of Santa Fe’s 85,000 residents.

    But some stretches of the river don’t flow year-round, and that means parts of this vitally important water system could lose federal protections under changes to clean-water rules just passed by the Trump administration.

    The administration’s new Navigable Waters Protection Rule replaces the Obama-era Waters of the U.S. (or WOTUS) rule that defined which waterways were protected under the Clean Water Act. The Obama administration broadened and clarified which waters were safe, but the new rule takes a much narrower view. Under the changes many waterways lose federal protection. That includes ephemeral streams and rivers that depend on seasonal precipitation — like parts of the Santa Fe — as well as waters that cross state boundaries and wetlands that aren’t adjacent to major water bodies.

    This loss of protections means pesticides, mining waste, and other pollutants can be dumped into these streams and unconnected wetlands can be filled for development without running afoul of federal authorities…

    The rule flies in the face of basic science about river ecology and groundwater, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s own scientists. Even if streams don’t flow all the time or wetlands don’t touch major bodies of water, dumping pollutants into them can still harm the watershed — and by extension drinking water and wildlife.

    The Trump administration promised these changes would offer more control to states, but many state officials say they find the new rules problematic, confusing and potentially dangerous.

    “One of our biggest concerns with the final rule is that it’s not rooted in sound science,” says Rebecca Roose, water protection division director of the New Mexico Environment Department. “And there was really no attempt by the agency to reconcile the final rule with the scientific basis for the 2015 WOTUS rule and advice from the scientific community.”

    While these changes will be felt in every state, they won’t be felt equally.

    What the #BearsEars management plan does — and doesn’t do — Lost Souls Press

    Butler Bridge. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson

    From Lost Souls Press (Jonathan Thompson):

    Public lands lovers have been up in arms since the Trump administration issued the final management plans for what’s left of Bears Ears National Monument. And the outrage is sowing confusion, along with headlines that imply that the plans “invite polluters into” the national monument, or that the “US plans to open millions of acres of public lands to cattle, drilling.”

    That’s not quite right.

    Every day, Trump and his plutocrats and sycophants give us plenty to be disgusted about. The new Bears Ears management plan, however, isn’t all that worthy of outrage. What is outrageous is this: The removal of lands from national monument status in the first place, along with the evisceration of dozens of regulations that were put in place to protect those public lands.

    President Barack Obama established the Bears Ears National Monument on 1.35 million acres of federal land in 2016 using the Antiquities Act. The designation immediately halted all new oil and gas leasing and the staking of new mining claims (existing mineral rights remained in place, however, as did the ability to file for new grazing rights). Obama left office before the management planning process began.

    From Bears Ears National Monument. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson

    A year later, in December 2017, Trump signed the proclamation that shrunk the original monument by about 85%. That re-opened 1.1 million acres to oil and gas leasing and mining claims. The 201,876 acres that remained of the monument remain off-limits to drilling and mining.

    The shrinkage immediately faced legal challenges from the tribal nations that proposed the monument in the first place, as well as from environmental groups. Unlike an executive order, the Antiquities Act, passed by Congress in 1906, is a one-way law: A president can use it to protect antiquities, but not to take those protections away. In 1976, Congress passed the Federal Land Management Policy Act, which further strengthened the one-way nature of the Act. Prior to FLPMA, presidents did modify the boundaries of monuments established by their predecessors. However, the actions were never tested in the courts.

    Despite the fact that the status of the monument and its boundaries were in legal limbo, the Bureau of Land Management in 2018 started the process of creating a management plan for what remained of the diminished monument. The move was not only premature, but it was also like tossing salt in the gaping wound left by the original shrinkage. And, assuming the courts reverse the shrinkage, it will likely turn out to be a big waste of effort and resources.

    In early February, the process was completed when the BLM handed down its approved management plans for the Indian Creek and Shash Jáa units, which make up the post-shrinkage Bears Ears National Monument. The plans do not apply to or affect the 1.1 million acres that were removed from the original monument.

    As is typically the case in the crafting of such plans, the BLM put forward several alternatives, from “no action,” which mostly would have kept the status quo on monument lands, to the “environmentally preferred alternative,” which was more restrictive and prescriptive.

    In the end, the BLM chose a mash-up of all the alternatives, leaning heavily in the “no action” direction, which the agency says has “fewer land and resource use restrictions” and allows for “review of management actions on a case-by-case basis at the site-specific implementation level.” In other words, while there are slightly more protections than there were prior to monument designation, the plans generally retain the status quo.

    Highlights/lowlights include:

  • Off-highway vehicles will continue to be allowed on designated routes — which are plentiful — but there will be no OHV free-for-all areas. Mountain biking will be limited to designated OHV routes, which are plentiful. OHVs will continue to be allowed in Arch Canyon.
  • Heavily visited, fragile cultural sites will remain open to the public, but visitor numbers will continue to be limited at Moon House.
  • Target shooting will be prohibited near rock art sites, but not in other parts of the monument.
  • The plan puts stricter restrictions on collection of petrified wood and fossils, and puts a few places off-limits to camping and OHV use.
  • Arch, Mule, Fish, and Owl Canyons, as well as nine tributaries to Butler Wash, will be closed to grazing, but the plan also “facilitates economic opportunities in the local communities supported by tourism, which includes guided tours and dispersed recreation, as well as economic opportunities provided by grazing.” In other words, grazing will continue on most of what remains of the monument.
  • The plans “maintain or increase existing level of vegetation treatments” for fire management, which could be a justification to do more chaining (which is where a swath of land is cleared of vegetation by dragging a huge chain behind bulldozers, often to convert forests into grazing land).
  • More specifics will be ironed out in the cultural resource, recreation area/business, and travel management plans, to be formulated over the next several years.
  • But those particulars are less relevant than the fact that they only apply to a mere fraction of the lands that were protected under the Obama monument designation. The 1.1 million acres taken out of the original monument contain some of the most sensitive, spectacular, and culturally rich areas.

    Those who opposed monument designation in the first place argue that the protections afforded by a monument are unnecessary since several layers of regulations already limit or mitigate development on public lands. Yet the Trump administration has gone on a regulatory rollback frenzy, stripping away the rules that were put in place to protect the nation’s land, water, air, workers, and human health. Those 1.1 million acres are all the more vulnerable as a result.

    These new management plans don’t change that in any way. They do, however, provide a look at what we can expect if the courts overturn Trump’s monument shrinkage and Trump is re-elected: Most likely, a similar, minimally protective plan will be extended to the restored monument, rendering it little more than a monument in name, only, while attracting more visitors and more damage.

    If a Democrat is elected in November, however, they could use the Antiquities Act as it was intended, and re-designate the monument within its original boundaries. Even better, they could designate a bigger monument, one that follows the boundaries originally proposed by the inter-tribal coalition. Then they could toss out the inadequate management plans and start from scratch.

    Jonathan P. Thompson is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster (Torrey House, 2018), and the forthcoming novel, Behind the Slickrock Curtain (Lost Souls Press, 2020).

    This article is available for reprint, and Thompson is available to do freelance work. Contact him at Jonathan@RiverOfLostSouls.com for details.

    The road to Bears Ears via the Salt Lake Tribune.